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The Pharaoh's Secret (NUMA Files 13) Clive Cussler 2022/7/22 13:55:10

Between the cars, wives and mistresses, not to mention the hostesses—who were dressed in shimmering gowns—the guard at the warehouse had the distinct impression he was missing out.

The second guard shrugged. “Wait till someone loses an earring: all hell will break loose over there and we’ll be sitting here with our feet up reporting that all is well.”

“Maybe you’re right,” the first guard replied, grabbing a clipboard. “Let’s go see what we have here.”

He stepped out onto the loading dock as another guard closed the gate a short distance away. A perimeter fence with razor wire on top was the first line of defense. Warehouse doors with security keypads that required key cards were the second, but the security guards themselves watched the warehouse twenty-four hours a day. And ever since the attack that killed Kensington, they’d tripled the manpower.

The truck bumped the platform and the warning alarm mercifully ceased.

The driver hopped out, came to the back of the truck and opened the door, which rattled as it slid upward.

“What do you have for me?” the guard asked.

“Last-minute delivery.”

The guard glanced into the truck. A single wooden crate, approximately eight feet long, four feet wide and maybe five feet tall, rested inside.

“Invoice number?” he asked.

“SN-5417,” the driver said, checking his own clipboard.

The guard scanned page one of his delivery sheet and found nothing. He quickly flipped to the second page. “Here it is. Last-minute add-on. Where’ve you been? This was due here an hour ago.”

The driver looked put-out by the question. “We got a late start and your big party is making for a traffic nightmare. You’re lucky I came at all.”

The guard didn’t doubt that. “Let’s take a look.”

Jamming a large screwdriver underneath the lid of the crate, he pried it open. Inside, resting on a bed of packed hay, was the narrow barrel of a small antipersonnel cannon used to fire grapeshot at one’s enemies. According to the delivery sheet, it had come from an eighteenth-century British sloop. Beside it, wrapped in acid-free paper and protected by bubble wrap, were several swords.

Satisfied, the guard turned to a forklift operator. “Take it through to the back, put it somewhere that it won’t be in the way. We’ll deal with it once the party’s over.”

The forklift operator nodded. Unlike the guards, he was happy to be here. Night shift meant overtime. If it went past midnight, as it almost certainly would, it would be double time. He put the forklift in gear, picked up the crate and backed into the warehouse. Making a quick turn, he was soon heading down the central aisle of the sprawling space. When he reached a spot where the new crate would be out of the way, he stopped.

He placed the crate down with a light crunch. A quick glance told him the old wooden pallet underneath it had cracked. He shrugged. It happened all the time.

Pulling free, he backed out and made his way to the front end once again. Things would be quiet for a while. Until then, he decided to watch some TV in the break room.

He parked the forklift, took off his hard hat and stepped through the door. The first thing he noticed were several bodies on the ground, two of whom he recognized as the guards who’d just checked in the new delivery.

Across the room, several other security guards were standing with pistols drawn. He turned for the door but never made it. Three shots hit him almost simultaneously, accompanied only by the dull popping sound of a silencer-equipped automatic.

He dropped to his knees and a fourth shot put him out of his misery. He fell sideways, landing on the floor next to one of the other dead workers.

Had the forklift operator lived long enough to think about it, he’d have recognized the men with the guns as the new hires—temporary workers brought on to beef up security for the auction. He might also have noticed that a man with a burned face stood behind them. But he was dead before the synapses in his brain registered any of it.

He tried to stretch his legs, which had fallen painfully asleep. Wriggling and twisting his feet like some small animal trying to burrow through the soil, he forced them through the packing materials the way one pushes one’s feet between the overtight sheets of a well-made hotel bed.

“Watch it,” a voice called out. “You’re kicking me in the ribs.”

Kurt took his lips off the regulator. “Sorry,” he said.

The stretching had helped a little, but he was still uncomfortable: something sharp was jabbing him in the back, and the hay that had been used as insulation was itchy. Finally, he’d had enough.

Wriggling his arm through the loose padding until it was in front of his face, he was able to make out the tiny glowing marks on his Doxa watch.